Monday, July 14, 2008

A Smokey Day in the Livermore Wine Country

The temperatures in the Bay Area the past couple weeks have been insane and the air has been filled with smoke from the 1000+ wild fires that are raging throughout California. But on Saturday July 12th the weather seemed rather mild and the smoke had cleared a little bit, so I decided to head out to the Livermore Wine Country to visit a few of the newer wineries.

When I first started adventuring in the Livermore Valley there were only about 18 wineries. Now there are almost 50 with more on the way.

Les Chenes Estate Vineyards
My first stop was at the far east end of the wine country at Les Chenes Estate Vineyards. It is tucked away back in the crevasse of a canyon that winds out to Coral Hollow Road which will eventually take you to I-5.

Les Chenes is at the end of Victoria Lane, a rather dusty road, and the tasting room is quaint at this back roads winery. The wine servers are very hospitable and there is a $5 tasting fee which is refunded with a purchase of any bottle of wine.

The first wine I tried was a 2007 Roussanne. Most Roussannes that I have tried in the past were blended either with a Viognier or a Marsanne. This wine reminded me of a flowery herbal tea.

The next two wines were the 2003 and 2005 Syrah. Both were on the light side and the server described them as being more of a French style and they $24 and $30 a bottle.

The final wine of the line up was the Deux Rouge. It is 80% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and of all their wines this was the only one that I enjoyed as the Cabernet gives the Syrah more body, depth and complexity. At $24 a bottle the price is fair.

Eagle Ridge Vineyards
My second stop for the day was at Eagle Ridge Vineyards, just down the road and to the west of Les Chenes, at 10017 Tesla Road. The winery is at the end of a series of steep little roller coaster hills on dusty a road on top of a ridge. The servers are also the owners and wine makers, a friendly couple who asked me after I had already finished my taste, “Would you like some more?” I don’t think I have ever had anyone do that at a winery before, especially at a winery that doesn’t charge for tastings.

They had two wines available, a 2007 Pinot Grigio and a 2004 Petite Syrah, with a third to be released later this year - Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2007 Pinot Grigio is a medium-bodied, crisp, well balanced white wine with loads of tropical fruit and intense aromatics of honey and wild flowers on the nose. This is a great summer wine that will pair well with my chicken caesar salad. It sells for only $18, so I bought a bottle.

The second wine was a 2004 Petite Syrah which is a grape well suited for Livermore’s climate and soil. This wine displayed all the characteristics I look for in this varietal - a deep-colored purple, robust peppery notes with plenty of tannin and good structure. Like zinfandel, this is a great barbecue wine that will go well with meats with spiced rubs.

One of the disadvantages of such a small family-owned winery is it can be difficult to keep their prices low. This wine sold for $34 but if you look around the valley there are a few larger wineries with comparable Petite Syrahs that sell for much less. But, if you want to support the small mom and pop winery businesses, buy a bottle anyway!